After one spouse has filed for divorce in Arizona, the court may refer the couple to an Early Resolution Conference, particularly if the spouses do not have attorneys and are representing themselves. An ERC may be the first step in a divorce and occurs before the trial or any pre-trial hearings. Both spouses must attend. The ERC is not run by the judge, but instead a neutral third party. At the ERC, the spouses talk through the issues of the case to see if they can come to an agreement for spousal maintenance, property division, and child custody and support.
When the judge orders an ERC, it is mandatory for the couple to attend unless they submit a Consent Decree. If one spouse does not attend, he may have to pay a No Show fee or the divorce case may move to default proceedings, meaning the spouse who showed up essentially decides the terms of the divorce decree. The couple may submit a Consent Decree to avoid attending an ERC, but only if they agree to all the terms of the divorce, including property division, spousal maintenance, child support, custody and parenting time. The Consent Decree must include a data sheet with information about each spouse, details about the agreement and a parenting plan if the couple has children.
Prior to attending an ERC, you and you spouse must submit a Resolution Statement, which outlines your ideal divorce settlement. Once at the ERC, you can expect the meeting to last between two and three hours. The neutral party, often a family law case manager, will help the spouses reach an agreement on the terms of the divorce. If the couples are able to agree, the case manager will help the couple fill out the paperwork to outline the agreements. Sometimes couples agree on certain terms of the divorce and not on others during an ERC.
If the couple is unable to reach an agreement on issues that came up during the ERC, the remaining disputes will be settled at trial. At the trial, each spouse may present evidence to support their claims for financial settlements or custody arrangements. The judge will hear the evidence and determine the appropriate terms of the divorce, later finalized in the official divorce decree signed by the judge.